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Mar 23, 2016 | 19:22 GMT

3 mins read

Cabinet Reshuffle Could Destabilize Baghdad

(AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is planning to reshuffle his Cabinet, but doing so could upset the country's carefully balanced government. Since early February, when the prime minister announced his intention to replace nine members of the Cabinet with professionals, technocrats and academics, the government has faced mounting pressure from the public. Demands for reform and protests against corruption are increasing, and though al-Abadi has made an effort to consult lawmakers and leaders from across the political spectrum in the reshuffling process, he will have to tread carefully to avoid inciting further unrest.

On March 23, parliamentary deputy Mehdi al-Hafez announced that the legislative selection committee had submitted a list of nominees to al-Abadi for consideration. The prime minister, in turn, plans to release the names of his selected candidates on March 26. Depending on who al-Abadi chooses, the representation of the country's political parties and ethnic groups may change, especially if the prime minister prioritizes experience over any particular affiliation. If he does, he will likely face considerable pushback from all sides.

In theory, the risk of altering political representation should have been mitigated by the method the parliament used to select its nominees. Al-Abadi asked each of the country's constituent blocs to put forth technocratic candidates from its own political and religious group. However, the prime minister has not pledged to uphold the political quota that is currently in place, and his silence on the issue is making many Iraqi politicians nervous.

With the final Cabinet selections fast approaching, the reactions of several individuals and groups within Iraqi politics will be important to watch to determine how the reshuffle will impact Iraqi stability.

Who to Watch

  • Muqtada al-Sadr: The prominent Shiite leader has heavily criticized the al-Abadi government for its slow progress in combating corruption. He and his backers currently hold about 34 percent of the seats in parliament and have called for all Cabinet ministers to be replaced. Since al-Abadi will likely only remove nine, the al-Sadr camp will not be completely satisfied by those appointed to replace them, regardless of who al-Abadi chooses. Al-Sadr's demands for a full reshuffle will probably persist, and if his supporters lose spots within Iraq's ministries, their ongoing sit-in against corruption could escalate into larger protests.
  • Kurds: Iraq's Kurds are worried that the reshuffle will decrease their representation in Baghdad, not just in terms of numbers but also with regard to which ministries they head. Kurdish politicians currently lead the Culture, Migration and Finance ministries, and Kurdish Culture Minister Faryad Rawanduzi has already refused to leave his post. If these ministerial positions are given to non-Kurdish officials, it could damage Baghdad's ties with the Kurdistan Regional Government.
  • Sunnis: Similarly, Iraq's Sunni minority will protest if the reshuffle chips away at its presence in the government. In the event that Sunnis' representation decreases, their opposition to the al-Abadi administration could rise, feeding into broader Sunni unrest throughout Iraq.

If al-Abadi successfully installs his technocratic candidates, the Iraqi government may be better positioned to handle the country's persistent economic challenges in the future. However, it will be impossible for the prime minister to satisfy all Iraq's political actors, no matter who he chooses for his next Cabinet. Consequently, any changes that take place in the coming days probably will not be as grand as al-Abadi had initially intended, nor as effective as interested observers hope. Moreover, al-Abadi's efforts will do little to discourage the al-Sadr-led protests, which can be expected to continue in the weeks ahead.

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